Wednesday, March 29, 2017

English Lessons by Andrea Lucado -- Book Review #bloggingforbooks

About English Lessons (from the publisher)
"Could She Come to Love the Questions Themselves? The church wasn’t just a part of Andrea Lucado’s childhood. It was her childhood. It provided more than happy moments. It provided an invitation to know Jesus. When Andrea arrived in Oxford the year after she graduated from college, she expected to meet God there. What she didn’t expect was that God would be much bigger than she’d believed. In this engaging memoir, Andrea speaks to all of us who wrestle with doubt and identity. 'So many nights in Oxford,' Andrea writes, 'I felt like the details of my faith were getting fuzzier. Nights turned restless with questions. I questioned God’s existence, and the doubt was getting into my bones.' In English Lessons, Andrea takes us through the roads of England and, more importantly, the paths of the soul. Here she explores the journey of a changing faith and an unchanging God—and why growing up starts with realizing just how small we are."

I struggled with reviewing this book. As a Christian, a writer, a woman, and one who has traveled in England, I think I know what she's trying to say with this book. The problem is, she doesn't actually say it---and that makes it difficult to decide how to go about evaluating it. The book's subtitle, "The crooked little grace-filled path of growing up" alludes to the author's growth throughout the period of time the book describes. The problem is that she doesn't actually grow---or if she does, she doesn't make that very clear.

Here's what I was expecting when I picked up this book: The cover info implies a physical journey, as well as a spiritual one. I was expecting her to have visited "the roads of England" as the back cover states and to have "grown up" a little spiritually or emotionally during that journey.

Instead, I got 200 pages of a pampered Millennial rambling about her issues with "British culture"---opinions that were based on what she experienced within about a three-mile radius of her classes at Oxford Brookes. {If you don't see the issue with this, imagine someone basing their knowledge and opinion of American culture on only the people, conversations, food choices, accent, and political stances of the people in one state--like New Jersey---or Texas---or Oregon---or Minnesota.}

So fine---not every story has to have a deeply spiritual ending. She's still on her journey---I get that. We all are. My question is--what is the point of this book? It's not encouraging to a mature faith and it's not the greatest example to an immature one. I thought maybe all her mentions of drinking and hangovers would culminate in some choice to maybe lay off the liquor a little in the end---but...nope. I think it's one of those preacher-kid rebellion things where it makes her feel edgy and relatable to talk about all her boyfriends and drunken parties and hangouts with the atheist club. All of this would make a great backstory for a redemption tale. But, by the last page, I'm still not seeing a redemption tale.

Why are we publishing the diaries of a wandering preacher's kid? She's careful not to mention on her site's About Me page that she's Max Lucado's daughter so I get it that she doesn't want to stand on the fame of her father, but the thing is---the people who are going to pick up this book are people who have been reading her father for the last 20+ years. People older than me. Then they're going to be super annoyed that they're reading something that sounds like the whiny kids they just scooted out of the house and which should be very clearly marketed to the back end of the Millennial generation. This is a rant, yes. My point is---there is no solid point to this book. That bugs me. Moving on...

Andrea's back cover says, "What she didn't expect to find was that God would be so much bigger than she believed." She did not reveal a big God here. The constant whining about her circumstances got really old, really fast. 100 pages in, I was still wondering if she was going to have a growing up moment. I'd really had enough of the diva drama. Besides the fact that scores of intelligent women would highly covet the opportunity to study at Oxford and explore England without much responsibility for a year, her spoiled attitude {no microwave, no coffee maker, no instantly heated room, etc...} makes me wonder if this woman even realizes what a real problem is? You know---things like hunger, fear, abuse? It makes me embarrassed for her parents and undermines their credibility to have raised such a selfish drama queen. I kept thinking she was overdramatizing herself in order to come around later and talk about her big revelation and change---but nope. As she says, "I tried to have a very serious and contemplative moment with myself, but I couldn't....I looked the same. Maybe all the clothes I had on were European brands and maybe my hair had grown longer, but overall, still me." If the point of this book is to tell the story of how a spirit-filled girl spends a year in one place without having any sort of spiritual or emotional change, then let's make that plainly known from the outset, shall we?

 Now for the redeeming bits...

The mature voice does show itself, if just now and then, in the second half of the book---although the chapter on My Frontlight in the first half of the book provided a great mental picture about how we often need to be carried by those spiritually stronger. I thought her insights in chapter eight were spot on. My favorite quote was this: "If the gospel can be portrayed by someone who isn't even a Christian, it must be an inescapable story. It must be an inescapable story, a thread that runs through everything and everyone." She really does share some great perspectives and truths when she's in the contemplative mood, but her diva-ness obscures a lot of them. Too bad. Sometimes less is more and we writers don't have to share every. single. thing. to be authentic.

Since anyone who has read this far probably already hates me by now, I'm going to go ahead and say this next part and then be done. The author talks a lot about huge cultural differences and how she feels alone. Everyone is "speaking a different language", even though it's all technically English. The problem here is proper education. She nails it on page 26 when she says, "It made me wish I had read more as a child and watched less Saved By The Bell." America's education priorities are ridiculous. {I am aware she was privately schooled. That means little in this case as many are modeled on the same failed system.} Why are we not preparing our children to maturely interact on a global level? Many of the Americans I've traveled with (and some older Canadians, for that matter) come across as very ignorant and irritated when the things we experience in England aren't simple or convenient enough for them. However, when one is traveling, isn't the experience of the new and unexpected the whole point? It's up to us to adapt, not for them to conform. The author's rambling, self-interested dialogue is grating and makes it difficult to understand the point of what she's saying. (13 pages of rambling about a spoon in her tea ends with, "I didn't get it and honestly I still don't." WHAT?!!) If this is how she spoke to the people "over there", I can see why the not-too-wordy British seemed a little standoffish.

In short, the book was full of way too many attempts at artsy poetic-ness and way too little substance. The book needs a resolution---some kind of take-away to make the reader feel like there was a reason for both the writing and the reading of it.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinionated opinions have been opined without coercion.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Secret Lives of Books: Tales of a Wayside Inn --- An Awesome and Rare Surprise in This Vintage Longfellow Collection

You know those times when you have something to share but you don't know how to properly express the level of awesomeness that goes along with it? That's how I'm feeling right about now. Last summer, I picked up this 1915 copy of Longfellow's Tales of a Wayside Inn in the books-for-sale section of our library. You've read before about our library's awesome shelf of antique books that sell for super cheap---it's irresistible! I try to pick up Longfellow when I see him because I plan to save them for our own Evangeline---four year old Brenna Evangeline.

The reason I got so excited about this copy is because of what's written inside. Don't worry, I'll show you in a minute...just let me tell my story! If you're not familiar with Tales of a Wayside Inn, here's the scoop: Originally published in 1863, the book is narrated in turns by fictional friends who are staying at the real-life Sudbury, Massachusetts inn and are telling stories in the form of poems. The Wayside Inn was actually known in real life as The Red Horse Tavern. It was established in 1716 and was a popular hangout for Harvard students until it closed in 1861 upon the death of the owner. Longfellow visited in 1862 and was inspired after receiving a tour of what he thought to be a "rambling, tumble-down building." 

In 1897, the inn was reopened by a man who wanted to restore it and fill it with the beautiful antiques he'd collected on his travels. One of the pieces he added was Daniel Webster's desk. In 1923, Henry Ford bought the inn and that's where this book comes in.

Just like Longfellow's group of friends who stayed at the inn, Mr. Glenn L. Davis and Mr. Max Herzog visited the inn with their wives and recorded the event by signing the inside of this book on August 28, 1930. What's more, they signed it on Daniel Webster's desk! Whomever owned this book also thought it was a special memento because they came back to it 25 years later to record the fire that destroyed Webster's desk in 1955, along with many other beautiful antiques and much of the inn.

There is so much fun history to be read about The Wayside Inn---it's still operating today! It's located along the Old Boston Post Road---one of the oldest in the country, having been in operation since 1673. George Washington passed through there in 1775 on his way to Cambridge to take command of the Patriot army. In fact, it's recorded that both Washington and LaFayette passed by numerous times. Henry David Thoreau noted in his journal that he left his horse there in 1853 while attending to other business in town. 

So, what do you think? Pretty awesome, huh? 
How I love books! Beautiful, wonderful, holders of history.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Treasured Grace by Tracie Peterson -- Book Review

From Amazon (condensed): "In untamed Oregon Country, one young woman fights to keep her family safe. After her parents died, raising her two younger sisters became Grace's responsibility. A hasty decision to head west seemed like an opportunity for a fresh start but has instead left Grace in a precarious position. When missionary Dr. Marcus Whitman and his wife agree to let Grace and her sisters stay at their mission for the winter, Grace is grateful. Until they hear from their uncle in Oregon City, the three sisters have nowhere else to go.

As Grace adjusts to life in the West, she meets Alex Armistead who intrigues and infuriates her in equal measure. When tragedy threatens lives at the mission and among the native Cayuse who live nearby, it is Alex who helps Grace help where she can, despite Dr. Whitman's disapproval. As the death toll rises, so do tensions between the settlers and the natives, and Grace soon finds herself and those she loves in more danger than she imagined possible."

I hardly ever pick up a romantic fiction story, but I was super excited to see this new read set in the Eastern Oregon county where I grew up and lived most of my life. Tracie Peterson's simple and touching story, Treasured Grace, is an interesting historical fiction that was simple to imagine as I know this landscape like the back of my hand. I've always been interested in the stories of Whitman Mission and other local Oregon Trail history. My mom and I are actually planning a trip to visit the site of Whitman Mission in the near future. 

I'd read the story of the Whitman Massacre multiple times before, but this time was very difficult having already established a relationship with them. The tragic upon tragic of this story made any happy endings fall flat. Perhaps that's what the author intended or perhaps the story was just too personal but I came away feeling very bummed.

I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Inkblots by Damion Searls -- Book Review #bloggingforbooks

When I was in the third grade, I was evaluated for the school district's TAG program---Talented and Gifted. I remember sitting at a table the color of a manila envelope and answering questions about abstract art and other things I didn't understand. I must have been deemed "special" enough for the elite smart-kid programs because from then on, I was a guinea pig for all the educational reform experiments the 80s could muster. Whenever I read about The Rorschach "Test", I think about the guidance counselor, Mrs. L, and the manila envelope-colored table.

The Rorschach "Test" isn't really a test but a way of evaluating one's personality traits, emotional state, and "secret thoughts". A subject is shown a series of inkblots and is asked to describe what they see and how it makes them feel. As you can imagine, there's a lot of controversy surrounding whether this is a valid evaluation method and whether or not the administrator can truly "read" the mind and emotions of the subject.

In The Inkblots, author Damion Searls tells the story of Hermann Rorschach, the creator of the test. Like any good biography/history book/mini encyclopedia, the story begins with his family history and follows him through to his death with all the trivia you'd ever want to know sandwiched in between. His professional and personal lives run parallel throughout the book---except when they intersect in ways that reveal a man who allowed his curiosity and thirst for knowledge lead him to true heart relationships with his patients.

Searls' book is the first ever biography written about Rorschach and his test. The connections it makes to historical figures that influenced his passion for psychology and research are interesting to read about without becoming droning. The test's uses and influences, from its inception to current uses and administration methods, are a testament to Rorschach's legacy, despite his early death.

You can learn more about author Damion Searls on his website.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.